Rorate Coeli – Advent IV
“Nobody and Everything”
Seminarian Brendan Harris, Vicar
St. John 1.19-28; Deuteronomy 18.15-19; Phillipians 4.4-7
20 December, 2020
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus ☩ Christ; Amen.
“I am not the Christ.” This is the Word of the Lord. Our Gospel this morning from the mouth of St. John amounts to a letdown: “I’m not the Christ, it’s not me. You’ve got the wrong guy.” But John doesn’t stop there, he denies himself even further when he is finally called to give a proper explanation of who he is, he declares, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” With this statement, John doesn’t simply say “I am not the Christ, my name is John, my parents are Zachary and Elizabeth, I was born on…” No, he refuses to even refer to himself as a human person: John simply says, “I am the voice.” Now John is clearly a man with flesh and blood, yet when told to give an account of himself, John might as well say: “I am nobody, I am nothing.” And he doesn’t even come up with his own response, John’s words here aren’t even his own because he’s quoting Isaiah’s prophecy. So not only is he nobody, but he’s not even an original thinker, he isn’t even saying anything new.
So what’s the big deal? Why are we gathered here today, just to hear some guy tell us he isn’t Jesus and that he’s really nobody? Did we come out today to hear a reed shaken by the wind or a man in soft clothing? No, of course not, we know that John is a prophet, and Jesus even calls him the greatest man to have ever been born. So why then does he give this confounding answer to the priests? This statement of John’s calls another story to mind for me, one which you may have heard before: the classical Greek tale by Homer, the Odyssey. Now in the story of the Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew one day stumbled upon an island with a mountain on it and a big cave. They wandered into that cave only to find a horde of treasure, and a bunch of food stores, so naturally they helped themselves and had a little feast. But what they didn’t know is that they had wandered directly into the home of a terrible creature, a great Cyclops, and the Cyclops happened to walk in on their little dinner party, and he rolled a great stone in front of his cave to lock them in. And so naturally he made a meal out of a couple of unfortunate sailors, and fell asleep. The men found themselves locked in the dark with that great monster, but they couldn’t just try and fight him, because they wouldn’t be strong enough to open the door if the Cyclops was dead. And so the Cyclops, day by day, would roll open the door of the cave and let out his flock of sheep, as he was apparently a shepherd, and then close it before the men could do anything, and later when he came back and let the sheep back in, he’d have a couple of the men for dinner. Odysseus, observing this pattern, eventually offered the Cyclops some wine, trying to get him to sleep a little longer than usual so that they could hatch a plan. When he did this, the Cyclops was grateful and asked Odysseus what his name was, but he did not just say, “Odysseus,” but rather he told him, “I am Nobody.” And so the Cyclops replied, “Well, Mr. Nobody, I like you, so I’ll do you a favor and eat you last.” And with these kind words, the Cyclops fell into a drunken sleep, and Odysseus and his men got to work sharpening a big wooden pole into a spear, and while the Cyclops was still asleep, they went up to him and used it to poke out his eye. The Cyclops was naturally quite unhappy about this, and stumbled around blindly trying to grab the men, but he couldn’t find them. And in the morning, when it came time to let his sheep out to graze, Odysseus and his men clung to the underbellies of the sheep, so that when the Cyclops patted them to make sure no one else got out, he couldn’t detect them. And so the men ran off to the coast where their boat was moored, but Odysseus decided he hadn’t had enough, and so had the nerve to yell out at the Cyclops, “Just to set the record straight, my name isn’t Nobody, it’s Odysseus who has bested you.”
When the priests and Levites gathered around John, he likewise told them, “I am Nobody.” John knew who these men were, and he knew well that they were not his friends. These men answered to the Sadducees, the powers that be in Jerusalem, and what he told them would have consequences. This is why St. John the Evangelist begins this passage with the phrase: “This is the testimony of John.” The word for testimony in the Greek is the same word as martyrdom, and so John might as well be saying, “This is the reason why John the Baptist was martyred, this was his witness.” When told to speak for himself, he said, “I am nobody but a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” “Yes, I am nobody and nothing, but there comes one after me, that Christ, whose sandal I am unworthy to loose.” Yes, John was martyred because he did not tell these men what they wanted to hear, he turned away from himself, refusing to speak his own words, but instead pointed only to the Christ, only speaking of Him who is the true Word. When later King Herod will commit adultery with his brother’s wife, John would not waver from his proclamation, but would speak the Word of the Lord even against the king. In doing this, John might as well have volunteered himself to be dinner for a Cyclops, because he was not going to make it out of that alive.
And so this is our witness today, that the greatest of all the prophets, of all men, confessed he was nobody, and that Christ was everything. For right after this witness, John sees Jesus walking by, and utters those blessed words we sing every Sunday: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” John had the strength to face down the enemies of God, to stare into the eye of the Cyclops, right at the devil, because in the end, he really wasn’t nobody. John was everything, he was the hero, a hero that towered over even Odysseus, because he despaired of himself and instead clung to the Word of God, and God’s promise of Christ. For that child who made him leap for joy in the womb was now a man, and walked past him as the God-man, in order to take away the sins of the world to the Cross. And so with the mighty spear of God’s Word, John’s reply pierced the eye of the Sadducees, of all of the knowledge and wisdom of the world, and made it totally blind, because it could not comprehend this power that John wielded. And so even though Herod took his life and his head, John did not suffer any defeat, but left this world clinging to the underbelly of the Lamb of God, and by Him was declared righteous before God the Father and is now seated in honor in the Kingdom of heaven.
And so you, O little flock, you too are nobodies, and you are nothings, but in the same way you also are everything, because you have died to this world and gained heaven. In your Baptism, you made the same witness as John, and you confessed, and did not deny, “I am not the Christ, but the Christ has covered me. In His great love and mercy, the Lamb of God has indeed taken away my sins, and I am now baptized into his Name, into His Father, into His Holy Spirit, and I shall now leave this world as a little lamb, and forever cling to Him, my salvation.” And so let this be your witness, that even if the powers of the world seek your life, you will not forsake Him who has given you everything. Never forget, that in all of your kindness and civility to the rest of the world, even though you may try to be the nicest person you can be to everyone else, the best the world can give you is “I’ll eat you last.” But the death of Christ has swallowed death, and clinging to Him, you too will be raised and seated in honor in the Kingdom of heaven. Even though this witness is not going to be easy, the Good Shepherd is tending to you most lovingly, because you are everything to Him, and He will never allow his little ones to be tempted more than you can handle. And so, little flock, rejoice! Rejoice, always. The Lamb of God is here, and He is here for you: Christmas is coming. Again, I say, rejoice. In Jesus’ ☩ Name; Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus; Amen.